This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Samra Nawaz of WellWorth, Michael Suffredini of Axiom Space, and Colin McLelland of Digital Wildcatters. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries recently making headlines in Houston across energy and space tech.

Samra Nawaz, CEO and co-founder of WellWorth

Samra Nawaz founded WellWorth to tackle the convoluted financial modeling process in upstream oil and gas. Photo courtesy of WellWorth

As much as she loves a good Excel spreadsheet, Samra Nawaz had just about had it with the convoluted — and not always completely accurate — process of building financial models within upstream oil and gas.

"Excel is generally a good tool to automate workflows and build really robust spreadsheets. I live in Excel — I have a spreadsheet for everything," Nawaz says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "What Excel is not is a database."

Engineering teams work with massive amounts with data that's too big for Excel, she explains, so finance teams then have to work off of aggregated data to build their financial models. She was ranting about why there isn't a better process to her husband, Vinay Acharya, who suggested that they build it themselves. Read more.


Michael Suffredini, CEO of Axiom Space

Axiom Space CEO Michael Suffredini has opened the company's new HQ in the Houston Spacepory. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space

Axiom Space, co-founded by CEO Michael Suffredini, has opened its new Assembly Integration and Test Building, which will be the new headquarters for the Houston-based aerospace company at a new 22-acre campus at the Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport in Southeast Houston. The building will include employee offices, facilities for astronaut training and mission control, testing labs and a high bay production facility to house Axiom Space Station modules currently under construction.

Axiom Space partnered with Jacobs, Turner Construction Company, Savills, and Griffin Partners to expand the company’s headquarters with the Houston spaceport building, which is the tenth spaceport in the nation.

For the first time in Houston’s history, the Space City is now home to the development of human-rated spacecraft with the Axiom Stations modules. Houston Spaceport has laboratory office space like technology incubator space and large-scale hardware production facilities, and is the world’s first urban commercial spaceport. Read more.

Collin McLelland, co-founder and CEO of Digital Wildcatters

Collin McLelland, co-founder and CEO of Digital WildcattersThis Houston-based media company launched a networking platform to help solve the energy crisis. Photo courtesy

Digital Wildcatters, a Houston company that's providing a community for the next generation of energy professionals, has closed its seed plus funding round at $2.5 million. The round by energy industry veteran Chuck Yates, who also hosts his podcast "Chuck Yates Needs a Job" on the Digital Wildcatters' podcast network.

"Our mission is to empower the next generation of energy professionals to advance their careers and collaboratively address the global energy crisis," Collin McLelland, co-founder and CEO of Digital Wildcatters, says in the release. "We are incredibly grateful to have an investor base that not only believes in our vision but also supports our endeavor to craft innovative products that will redefine the future of the energy industry." Read more.

Samra Nawaz founded WellWorth to tackle the convoluted financial modeling process in upstream oil and gas. Photo courtesy of WellWorth

How this Houston SaaS startup plans to scale with future of energy in mind

houston innovators podcast episode 216

As much as she loves a good Excel spreadsheet, Samra Nawaz had just about had it with the convoluted — and not always completely accurate — process of building financial models within upstream oil and gas.

"Excel is generally a good tool to automate workflows and build really robust spreadsheets. I live in Excel — I have a spreadsheet for everything," Nawaz says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "What Excel is not is a database."

Engineering teams work with massive amounts with data that's too big for Excel, she explains, so finance teams then have to work off of aggregated data to build their financial models. She was ranting about why there isn't a better process to her husband, Vinay Acharya, who suggested that they build it themselves.



After thinking it through together, the duo co-founded WellWorth in 2018. Since then, the company has developed its MVP, completed a few accelerators — Rice University's OwlSpark, MassChallenge, and Softeq Ventures, to name a few — and won this year's Startup Pitch Competition hosted by the Ion.

Now, the bootstrapped startup looks to 2024 to bring on its first venture capital investors and team members — first to thoroughly tackle upstream O&G before expanding into other parts of the energy sector, including renewables.

"We're focusing on a specific workflow, and that is for engineering and finance teams and automating the corporate financial modeling side of the workflow," Nawaz says. "But we also see a lot of the renewables companies sprouting up, and we understand the attention on renewables verticals is only going to increase in the next few years.

"We're building WellWorth in a very modular way, so that when the time is right, we can easily start working with customers in the renewable space as well," she adds.

Nawaz, CEO of WellWorth, shares more about her company's growth plan and the impact the technology has on its early customers on the podcast.

Houston-based WellWorth was selected as the winner of this year’s Houston Startup Showcase. Photo courtesy of the Ion

Houston energy startup wins Ion's annual showcase, pitch competition

1st place

The Ion hosted its annual startup pitch competition, and one company walked away with a win.

WellWorth, a financial modeling and analysis software-as-a-service company for the upstream energy sector, won the Houston Startup Showcase + Expo and secured a $5,000 prize. The startup's technology introduces a more streamlined approach to NAV modeling or corporate financial modeling for its users.

“Having worked in investment banking, I have seen firsthand how the limitations of Excel models and a lack of bespoke tools have led to inefficient workflows in upstream Oil & Gas finance," says Samra Nawaz, CEO and Co-founder of WellWorth, in a statement. "We decided to solve this problem by building a cloud-based platform that helps energy finance leaders improve decision-making around raising, managing, and deploying capital.”

Nawaz explains how impactful the opportunity to pitch has been on WellWorth, which aims to raise funding early next year accelerate customer acquisition and product development.

“By getting involved in the Ion’s innovation ecosystem, we’ve been able to not only network with many entrepreneurs and innovators in the Houston community, but also find opportunities to scale our growth,” continues Nawaz. “We’re thrilled to have brought a few more customers onboard recently, and are working closely with them to optimize our product pipeline."

The company pitched alongside the other five finalists, which included Tierra Climate, MRG Health, BeOne Sports, Trez, and Mallard Bay. Mallard Bay, a booking platform for hunting and fishing trips, secured the people's choice award, which was decided by the crowd.

“Our flagship event, Houston Startup Showcase, not only connects startups and entrepreneurs with top business leaders but also provides them an opportunity to pitch their innovations to the technology ecosystem,” says Jan Odegard, executive director of the Ion, in a news release. “We extend our congratulations to WellWorth and the company’s innovative SaaS platform for energy industry finance teams, as well as Mallard Bay, the People’s Choice winner. These companies are exemplifying the exciting new technologies being developed in Houston today.”

In addition to the pitches, several companies showcased at the event, including Nanotech, manufacturer of thermal management materials for the built environment; last year's winner Unytag, a universal toll tag that provides drivers the ability to pass through tolls anywhere in the nation; and Softeq, provides early-stage innovation, technology business consulting, and full-stack development solutions to enterprise companies and innovative startups.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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Health tech startup launches Houston study improve stroke patients recovery

now enrolling

A Houston-born company is enrolling patients in a study to test the efficacy of nerve stimulation to improve outcomes for stroke survivors.

Dr. Kirt Gill and Joe Upchurch founded NeuraStasis in 2021 as part of the TMC Biodesign fellowship program.

“The idea for the company manifested during that year because both Joe and I had experiences with stroke survivors in our own lives,” Gill tells InnovationMap. It began for Gill when his former college roommate had a stroke in his twenties.

“It’s a very unpredictable, sudden disease with ramifications not just for my best friend but for everyone in his life. I saw what it did to his family and caregivers and it's one of those things that doesn't have as many solutions for people to continue recovery and to prevent damage and that's an area that I wanted to focus myself on in my career,” Gill explains.

Gill and Upchurch arrived at the trigeminal and vagus nerves as a potential key to helping stroke patients. Gill says that there is a growing amount of academic literature that talks about the efficacy of stimulating those nerves. The co-founders met Dr. Sean Savitz, the director of the UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, during their fellowship. He is now their principal investigator for their clinical feasibility study, located at his facility.

The treatment is targeted for patients who have suffered an ischemic stroke, meaning that it’s caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

“Rehabilitation after a stroke is intended to help the brain develop new networks to compensate for permanently damaged areas,” Gill says. “But the recovery process typically slows to essentially a standstill or plateau by three to six months after that stroke. The result is that the majority of stroke survivors, around 7.6 million in the US alone, live with a form of disability that prevents complete independence afterwards.”

NeuraStasis’ technology is intended to help patients who are past that window. They accomplish that with a non-invasive brain-stimulation device that targets the trigeminal and vagus nerves.

“Think of it kind of like a wearable headset that enables stimulation to be delivered, paired to survivors going through rehabilitation action. So the goal here is to help reinforce and rewire networks as they're performing specific tasks that they're looking to improve upon,” Gill explains.

The study, which hopes to enroll around 25 subjects, is intended to help people with residual arm and hand deficits six months or more after their ischemic stroke. The patients enrolled will receive nerve stimulation three times a week for six weeks. It’s in this window that Gill says he hopes to see meaningful improvement in patients’ upper extremity deficits.

Though NeuraStasis currently boasts just its two co-founders as full-time employees, the company is seeing healthy growth. It was selected for a $1.1 million award from the National Institutes of Health through its Blueprint MedTech program. The award was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The funding furthers NeuraStasis’ work for two years, and supports product development for work on acute stroke and for another product that will aid in emergency situations.

Gill says that he believes “Houston has been tailor-made for medical healthcare-focused innovation.”

NeuraStasis, he continues, has benefited greatly from its advisors and mentors from throughout the TMC, as well as the engineering talent from Rice, University of Houston and Texas A&M. And the entrepreneur says that he hopes that Houston will benefit as much from NeuraStasis’ technology as the company has from its hometown.

“I know that there are people within the community that could benefit from our device,” he says.

Texas Space Commission launches, Houston execs named to leadership

future of space

Governor Greg Abbott announced the Texas Space Commission, naming its inaugural board of directors and Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee.

The announcement came at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and the governor was joined by Speaker Dade Phelan, Representative Greg Bonnen, Representative Dennis Paul, NASA's Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche, and various aerospace industry leaders.

According to a news release, the Texas Space Commission will aim to strengthen commercial, civil, and military aerospace activity by promoting innovation in space exploration and commercial aerospace opportunities, which will include the integration of space, aeronautics, and aviation industries as part of the Texas economy.

The Commission will be governed by a nine-member board of directors. The board will also administer the legislatively created Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund to provide grants to eligible entities.

“Texas is home to trailblazers and innovators, and we have a rich history of traversing the final frontier: space,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says in a news release. “Texas is and will continue to be the epicenter for the space industry across the globe, and I have total confidence that my appointees to the Texas Space Commission Board of Directors and the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee will ensure the Texas space industry remains an international powerhouse for cutting-edge space innovation.”

TARSEC will independently identify research opportunities that will assist the state’s position in aeronautics research and development, astronautics, space commercialization, and space flight infrastructure. It also plans to fuel the integration of space, aeronautics, astronautics, and aviation industries into the Texas economy. TARSEC will be governed by an executive committee and will be composed of representatives of each higher education institution in the state.

“Since its very inception, NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been home to manned spaceflight, propelling Texas as the national leader in the U.S. space program,” Abbott says during the announcement. “It was at Rice University where President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would put a man on the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

"Now, with the Texas Space Commission, our great state will have a group that is responsible for dreaming and achieving the next generation of human exploration in space," he continues. "Texas is the launchpad for Mars, innovating the technology that will colonize humanity’s first new planet. As we look into the future of space, one thing is clear: those who reach for the stars do so from the great state of Texas. I look forward to working with the Texas Space Commission, and I thank the Texas Legislature for partnering with industry and higher education institutions to secure the future of Texas' robust space industry."

The Houston-area board of directors appointees included:

  • Gwen Griffin, chief executive officer of the Griffin Communications Group
  • John Shannon, vice president of Exploration Systems at the Boeing Company
  • Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace
  • Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin
  • Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg, director of the Texas A&M Space Institute

Additionally, a few Houstonians were named to the TARSEC committee, including:

  • Stephanie Murphy, CEO and executive chairman of Aegis Aerospace
  • Matt Ondler, president and former chief technology officer at Axiom Space
  • Jack “2fish” Fischer, vice president of production and operations at Intuitive Machines
  • Brian Freedman, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and vice chairman of Wellby Financial
  • David Alexander, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University

To see the full list of appointed board and committee members, along with their extended bios, click here.